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Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

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Review – X-Men: First Class (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

There is a theme currently in Hollywood not only to remake films, but also to make prequels of blockbusters, such as Batman and Hannibal. (Although, whether one would call Planet of the Apes a blockbuster is questionable.) X-Men: First Class is part of the wider X-Men Origins series that began with Wolverine two years ago. First Class is not as dark and gothic as Batman Begins; yet, it is an entertaining movie with strong moral messages.

Erik, Sean/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Charles, Moira, Raven/Mystique and Cyclops’ younger brother, Alex/Havoc (Lucas Till) all making observations during their time in CIA Headquarters.

Set mainly in early-1960s America, the film centres on the mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy – Atonement, Wanted, Trance), the future wheelchair-bound Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart in X-Men I, II & III), and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender – 300, Inglorious Basterds, Shame), the future renegade Magneto (played by Ian McKellen in later films).

Whilst the storyline is about how the US and Soviet governments need their respective mutants for espionage and to avoid going to war over Cuba in the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962), the mutants spend much time discussing how they just want to fit into mainstream society, despite being different: ‘mutant and proud’ they say (sounds similar to ‘gay and proud’ if you ask me). Oh how such slogans must make Lady Gaga happy! Nevertheless, one cannot help but note the political message here in First Class. The movie takes place at the same time as black people in America were starting to demonstrate and riot for equal rights. That mutants would want the same rights is understandable.

Yet, despite the civil rights aspect and the revising of history with a fantastic conspiracy theory about how the Cuban Missile Crisis played itself out, First Class is more about the contrast in mentalities between Charles and Erik: two friends who would become adversaries.

The mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), formerly the Nazi, Mengele-like doctor who experimented on Erik when he was a boy, casually chatting with the beautiful Emma Frost/White Queen.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both play well, without being brilliant. As a wise professor with little baggage, McAvoy has the easier of the two roles. Fassbender, without being crude or cliché, illustrates well Erik’s transformation into Magneto. (Arguably, more time could have been given to this, and it could have made for some fascinating psychological viewing. This is just a personal opinion though.) Alas, much of what Erik says is true; yet, undoubtedly, the crucial message of the film – ‘that killing will not bring you peace’ – is put across emphatically by Charles, who fears for his friend. If one thinks about an angry group of hate-filled people against the West in our own age, we might get a true understanding for who that message is really aimed at.

Charles and Erik are not, though, the only mutants seen in First Class. Although many of the bigger names of the later films do not feature, there are still some mutants that audiences may recognise. However, with exception of the beautiful, but insecure Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, The Beaver, The Hunger Games), none of the lesser characters are given much screen-time. Note though that all the women in the movie are gorgeous and sexy: Dr. Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne – 28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz – The Brave One, Californication) and, especially, Emma Frost/The White Queen (January Jones – Mad Men, Unknown, American Pie: The Wedding).

Two good friends happily playing chess. It is here that Charles voices his grave concern to Erik, regarding the latter’s desire for vengeance.

If the women and the differences between Charles and Erik are not enough to keep one entertained, the action scenes and the mutants’ supernatural powers should do the trick. The training sessions, wherein Charles teaches his mutant pupils how to control their abilities, are very funny. The special effects are not bad either. They may not always be great, but they adequately enhance the scenes.

All-in-all, First Class gives the viewers what they would want from this sort of film. It may not be as dark as other prequels; nonetheless, the movie has action, a good-looking cast, and poignant moral messages. Most importantly, the director, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake) shows us how Charles and Erik became enemies and sets up the context for X-Men I, even if some of the major characters have yet to join.

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